You started your business because of a burning desire to strike out on your own. You are confident that your knowledge and experience will help your target market. You’re passionate and know you can make a difference.
You face one important challenge, though: acquiring the customers you need to grow your business. And one thing you didn’t have in mind when you started your business was becoming a salesperson and a sales leader.
Let me be the first to congratulate you. You are a salesperson.
The First Mistake
The first mistake that entrepreneurs make is not recognizing that growing a business is all about sales. Adding customers and selling more to existing customers are the only ways to grow your business.
Entrepreneurs and small businesses don’t struggle because they lack a good product, a good service or a good solution. And they don’t struggle because they don’t know how to create value for customers. They struggle because they don’t have a plan to acquire new customers.
But here’s the good news: Because you are passionate about what you do and because you know how to help your customers, you are the perfect person to sell (and to lead a sales force later on).
To succeed, you need to embrace selling as Priority One.
Customer acquisition is king.
You’re busy. Right now you might be wearing five hats, such as for operations, accounting, customer service, collections and human resources. As important as these duties are, sales still has to come first.
Jim Rohn consistently reminded people about the law of the farm. You plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. If you don’t plant in the spring, there is nothing to harvest in the fall—and by then it is too late to plant. Like it or not, you have to follow this universal law to succeed—no selling, no new customers!
If you don’t focus on acquiring customers, those other responsibilities won’t come into play anyhow. There won’t be all that much to do, and your business won’t reach its full potential. But if you put sales first, your business will grow, and you can afford to hire help to cover the other responsibilities.
Make time to sell.
Rarely can anyone outsell you, the entrepreneur. You are more passionate—you care more deeply—than anyone else. You have the knowledge and experience to make a difference. To find time to sell, evaluate the other hats you wear. Ask yourself (and answer honestly):
- Am I the primary value creator for this task or role in my company?
- Do I add so much value in this area that no one else is capable of getting the same outcome?
If you aren’t the primary value creator of a given duty, then delegate it. Most entrepreneurs are uncomfortable giving up roles and responsibilities, but to grow your business, you need to assign the non-primary work to a member of your team or outsource it to someone who can do it cheaper and faster than you can.
Delegate enough work to free up a few hours a day to focus on acquiring new customers and to engage with your existing customers to discover their new needs and your new opportunities to help them. What you can’t delegate, defer until later in the day, after you have taken care of sales.
Build a sales process.
To make the most of your time selling, identify the processes and actions that led to past successes. A complete, careful analysis will help you grow faster by giving you and your team a predictable, repeatable process. If you haven’t yet begun to sell, the following activities generally give you a good framework for designing a sales process. You don’t need to be perfect, but you have to act. You and/or someone on your team needs to:
- Identify the activities that open relationships with your prospective clients. Do your leads result from marketing? Do they come through referrals? Are your leads generated by making proactive calls to your prospects? You need to construct an effective process for prospecting and creating new sales opportunities.
- Nail down the research required for discovering how to serve your dream clients so you present information that resonates—information that says you’ve got the answers to their problems.
- Determine what prospective clients need in order to move forward with you. Do they need a presentation? Do they need a full-blown proposal? A demonstration? Put together a boilerplate presentation, proposal and demonstration—information that you can customize client by client—to show your ability to make a difference.
- Know the final steps that win deals. Do you need your prospective client to sign a contract? Are there other crucial activities, such as an implementation meeting or training? Identify every step that moves you forward once you’ve proved your company is the right choice.
Selling, researching the needs of potential clients and prospecting to create new sales opportunities (this last one is especially important) must have a prominent place on your calendar each week. Growing your business means creating new sales opportunities, and the way to do that is by prospecting, using whatever method works best for you and your business. These are the tasks that will help you acquire the new clients you need to grow your business, and your engagement in these tasks will serve as an example for your entire team.
This article was published in July 2014 and has been updated. Photo by @wilsvanzyl/Twenty20.